Something is there

Cape Cod National Seashore near Provincetown, Massachusetts, May 2009

Cape Cod National Seashore near Provincetown, Massachusetts, May 2009

I go out
to the pale dunes, to look over
the empty spaces
of the wilderness.
For something is there,
something is there when nothing is there but itself,
that is not there when anything else is.

– Mary Oliver

There are places where vast emptiness stretches so far as to suggest infinity.  The more deserted the landscape, the more absent any sounds except those of nature, the more haunting are the memories of visits to these sites.  It’s awe-inspiring and a little frightening to stand amid such magnificent isolation.  The terrain may vary– I’ve felt such spells cast by locations as distant from one another as the Cape Cod seashore, the Florida Everglades, the mountains of Colorado or the southernmost point of the United States, on the island of Hawaii– but the somber allure is similar regardless of where these lands are located.  We will do well to preserve such sanctuaries of peace, these parcels of holy ground where we find again a sense of humility and perspective so often lost in the busyness of human endeavors.


  1. Sheila

    Good Sunday morning, Julia. Do you recall how loud that raging ocean was at the moment you snapped this picture? Even after all these years of living close to the waters edge,we are often amazed at how loud the ocean can be. Thank you for your blog with the perfect words this morning. I look at the early morning colors as the sun has just appeared on the horizon…. and think of you and yours! Sheila

    • Thanks Sheila, I loved the photo you sent of the sunset awhile back. I love the sound of the ocean and no matter how loud it is, it’s never disturbing to me. It’s like there’s something inherently peaceful about it, at least when one is on the land. It would sound terrifying from a boat, though. Hope you are having a pretty day. It’s finally starting to feel like spring here.

  2. The picture looks like a painting.
    I remember spending my holidays at my uncle’s house far away from the main road. At night the sounds of the insects and other creatures, and the blowing wind really scared me to death and I realized I could not sleep without the lullaby of the busy traffic. How sad!

    • It’s funny how we get used to certain sounds. When I was growing up we lived close enough to the Atlanta airport that the jets taking off would make very loud noise. Overnight guests would sometimes ask us how we slept through it, but we got used to it and I guess it seemed normal. I have always loved the rural sounds, though. Love the sound of crickets and other insects, and also I remember at my grandmother’s house I would always hear a rooster crowing, which I also liked. I agree with you, though, that winds can sound frightening, especially to someone with a good imagination!

  3. MaryAnn

    Julia, Once again, your words are comforting. In our small group we are studying God’s Promises. This past Wed., we used Psa. 46:10
    God says, “Be still and know that I am God.
    I will be praised in all the nations;
    I will be praised throughout the earth.” as a platform of discussion.
    Today’s front page of Bing & this verse are in tandem with your thoughts.

    Love, Mary Ann

    • Wow, that’s an amazing photo on Bing – thanks for telling me about it. I’m so glad you liked the post!

  4. Jenelle

    Julia, my husband and I returned yesterday from a week long trip from CA to CO. As we drove through Wyo there were times where I also felt a bit “frightened” by the “magnificent isolation”. The rolling plains, red rock hills and vast mountains toyed with my imagination; where does that loner road lead to? How did that tracker sitting deserted on a hill get there? But the Rockies. Oh, those majestic snow covered peaks left me in awe of the Lord’s creation. I was spellbound and wished the sunset could last for hours. What a feeling!

    • It is amazing, isn’t it? Kind of helps to put other things into perspective. We’ve driven across the country three times on moves to and from California, and the first time we ever drove though the western states, my husband said “I’ll never again feel that the earth is over-populated!” The Rockies are stunning. When we drove up Pike’s Peak I was so terrified that I tried to figure out some other way to get down, but on the way back down, my fear was eclipsed by my excitement at the unbelievable views. Going up was way scarier than coming down.

  5. After reading the above words of Mary Oliver I can say, quite frankly, that I feel more like I do now than I ever have!

    • That’s something you can say that nobody but you can say, and would not be said if anyone else but you said it. 🙂 All joking aside, Mary Oliver’s Poetry Handbook is one of the best, most concise, clear and helpful books on poetry that I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone who reads and/or writes poetry.

  6. Carlyle

    Dont overlook the vast untrammeled sanctity of space.

    • So true! When I was a kid, the Mercury and Gemini astronauts were the bravest people on earth in my mind, because the idea of outer space terrified me as much as it fascinated me. I guess I watched too many episodes of The Outer Limits. Space is the ultimate example of what I’m talking about. It doesn’t just hint at infinity, it manifests it. Right behind space on my list of terrifying wonders would be the undersea world.

  7. And since your other brother does not type comments into computers, I will speak for him:
    Terror of the undersea world? One has only to conjure up the late Jacques Cousteau – he would tell you of the hideous danger of the pois on ous feesh!

    • This must be an inside joke I’m not privy to – I just think there’s something creepy about being so far underwater. Fascinating, but creepy. Drew has almost a phobia about it.

  8. Beautiful places are so few and far between. Where I live, there’s both the beauty or the rockies that I love and destruction of the land that makes me insane. I actually have to check every word carefully as so many livelihood’s are tied to the oil industry in Alberta, either directly or indirectly. Even with very close friends, it’s a topic I dare not bring up. I’m afraid I stand alone.

    • Yes, we have to be diplomatic when dealing with controversies that affect people’s lives. For most of us, whatever our occupation, we will sometimes find ourselves on the opposite side of friends who have a different viewpoint. I felt that way during the years I was advocating for Matt’s special educational needs. Many of my friends and family members are teachers, and of course they have a completely different set of experiences and priorities than parents who are concerned with just one child or a few children. But I think it’s important for all sides to be represented. That’s why I think politicians — especially the good ones — do have a difficult job. At least in theory, they have to weigh everyone’s needs and try to come up with the best solutions to complex, difficult problems. But as you say, we often have to bite our lips and keep quiet when we feel as if we want to lecture. I’m afraid I’m not very good at such tact, but I’m working on it.


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